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Transcript of The Guest
"The Guest" is a short story written by French philosopher and writer Albert Camus
The story takes place on the eve of the Algerian uprising against French settlers, and as a French-raised Algerian Daru is caught in the middle of this conflict. Feeling like he should remain neutral when an officer and prisoner come to him for hospitality and direction, Daru openly disobeys Balducci (the French officer) by refusing to hand over an Arab prisoner to the police headquarters in Tinguit.
October in the early 1950s, just after a heavy blizzard settled
A frigid schoolhouse on an isolated and barren plateau in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria
At the time, France governed Algeria and its native inhabitants were pressing for independence (uprising)
Rebellions by native Algerians against French rule intensified after WWII, when this story takes place, and sets a tense and almost aggressive mood
Daru gives the Arab a chance to escape his fate, but at the end of the story the Arab chooses punishment
The title - the Arab is treated by Daru like a guest, but is really a prisoner
Daru is threatened by the note left on his blackboard despite the fact that he did nothing to actually condemn the Arab
By: Albert Camus
Setting and Point of View
Plateau - a school located in the middle of nowhere, symbolizes isolation
Emptiness and unpredictablity of the land/nature - symbolizes a universe indifferent to human needs (absurd)
South - the south-facing window symbolizes both Algerian-French relations as well as the choice that Daru could have made to free the Arab
Looking out to the south - foreshadows Daru's hope to see the Arab taking the path back to his people (the south also symbolizes Algeria
The noises heard around the school - foreshadow the threat written on the chalkboard
The story opens up with a schoolmaster named Daru looking upon two men who are making their way to his school/home. While waiting for the individuals to reach his location, Daru heats up the room, notes the improved weather and thinks about the starving families that depend on rations from him. hen, he greets the visitors; Daru invites Balducci, a gendarme and old friend, and an Arab felon, into his home.
Balducci explains that his order is to bring the Arab prisoner to Daru and then returns to El Ameur with haste. Daru's mission is to escort the Arab to Tinguit and hand him over to the police to be tried for murder. Before Balducci leaves, Daru insists that he will not hand the Arab over to the police.
Daru prepares a meal for the night and eats with the Arab. Afterward, they prepare for bed and converse about the murder and consequences that might follow, though the Arab remains vague. Daru feels like sleeping close to each other enforces a sense of brotherhood upon him and therefore has difficulty falling asleep. Suddenly, the Arab sneaks out of the room, only to later return. In the morning, they eat breakfast and Daru contemplates whether or not to hand the Arab over; he is revolted by the murder but thinks that turning the Arab in might not be the right thing to do.
Ultimately, Daru decides to let the Arab make his own choice. Daru shows him the way to Tinguit where he can turn himself in to the authorities or to the pastures where the nomads can shelter him. Before the Arab can say anything about what Daru has presented him with, the schoolmaster leaves.
Looking back at the prisoner, Daru notices that the Arab is making his way to Tinguit, implying that he plans to turn himself over to the authorities.
Daru returns to his home and finds a message written on his blackboard: "You handed over our brother. You will pay for this." It is unclear who left him this message, but it leaves Daru feeling very alone.
There are three major characters presented in "The Guest": Daru, Balducci, and the Arab
After Balducci leaves the Arab prisoner in Daru's hands, he is confronted with a moral conflict. Daru is disgusted with what the Arab has done, but how much does he truly know about the quiet man? It is the word of one man against another, and Daru struggles with both the moral implications of dooming a man to die, and the political/cultural conflict he faces due to his heritage versus upbringing. Daru eventually allows the Arab to choose his own fate in an attempt to escape having to make the decision for him. When the Arab chooses punishment over freedom, however, Daru suffers with the morality of it. This struggle is emphasized by the mysterious message written on Daru's chalkboard: "You handed over our brother. You will pay for this."
The point of view in "The Guest" is limited omniscient, third person. It focuses on Daru, the schoolmaster.
Both the external and internal conflicts in this short story play a major role.
an isolated schoolmaster living on a desolate plataeu in French-governed Algeria
possibly chose isolation due to his reluctance to join in a war he feels equal alliance to (French citizen, Algerian-born)
"lives almost like a monk" (211) is used to describe him, most likely because of his apparent loneliness and lack of materialistic pleasures
treating the Arab nicely and letting him choose his own fate is an attempt by Daru to satisfy his own conscious
experiences moral despair when he finds out the Arab's choice -> thought he could distance himself from the dilemma by allowing him the choice
lives according to Camus' existentialist philosophies, including the absurd -> finds meaning in life by choosing to live in an unforgiving environment
a French gendarme, similar to a police officer
he brings an Arab prisoner to Daru under orders from a superior
his quote "in wartime people do all kinds of jobs" (213) shows his strong belief in the war effort
loyalty to his job/superiors/country -> dislikes the duties of a gendarme and wants retirement, but follows his orders
quiet, reserved Arab man
charged with the murder of his cousin
source of Daru's moral conflict
develops an attachment to Daru after the schoolmaster treats him as an equal, with respect
suggested that he does not understand regret or fear for the crimes he has (supposedly) committed, though it is unclear due to the bias POV
he eventually resigns to fate by choosing punishment over freedom when given the choice
The original title of Camus' short story is "L'Hôte," which translates to both "the guest" and "the host." The theme of hospitality versus hostility reappears again and again throughout this story, though the author remains ambiguous about the true nature of his characters by using this French word, with its double meaning, as the title. Camus' story contains multiple themes, morality being one that has a strong presence in the title.
Moral dilemma - Daru is unsure whether the Arab deserves punishment or freedom
Moral solitude - Daru fails to make a decision for the Arab, and allows him to choose his own fate. When the Arab chooses punishment over freedom, it leaves Daru alone and in a state of isolation
Physical isolation - Daru lives on a remote plateau with little-to-no human contact, especially during storms like the one just passed
Moral solitude - After Daru leaves the Arab behind, he no longer feels comfortable in isolation and sees only his failure to choose in his surroundings
Isolation from human understanding - Daru betrayed his own principles by allowing the Arab to choose punishment when the fate originally rested in his hands
Politics and Culture
The story is set during a time of Algerian uprising against the French
Although both the French and Algerians share the same environment/climate/etc., there is still tension due to the imperialism and therefore there is a disconnect -> similar to Daru and the Arab
The Arab is forced to submit to European customs (i.e. the justice system)
Camus believed that through independent action one finds true value in life -> an individual can find meaning in a meaningless world through freedom of action
Daru chooses to live in a remote, desolate area
Freedom in "The Guest" is a paradox -> Daru doesn't want to choose the Arab's fate, but when the Arab chooses punishment Daru suffers a state of moral ambiguity
"The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world." - Camus
The universe is indifferent towards humanity -> in the story, nature (weather) behaves irrationally. This combined with human need represents the existentialist idea of the absurd
"The absurd is not in man or in the world, but in their presence together..."-Camus
By choosing to live on a desolate plateau, Daru shows an understanding of the absurd